Plantar fasciitis was previously believed to be inflammation of the fascia near its insertion on the heel bone. The suffix (-itis) means inflammation. Studies, however, reveal that changes in the tissue associated with the injury are degenerative and not related to inflammation, at least not in the way most people typically think of inflammation. Sudden onset of heel pain may indeed be related to acute inflammation. For persistent heel pain the condition more closely resembles long-standing degeneration of the plantar fascia near its attachment than inflammation. This could explain why anti-inflammatory medications and injections have been unsuccessful at treating it. But there is more to heel pain than just the plantar fascia.
Plantar fasciitis is the most common injury of the plantar fascia and is the most common cause of heel pain. Approximately 10% of people have plantar fasciitis at some point during their lifetime. It is commonly associated with long periods of standing and is much more prevalent in individuals with excessive inward rolling of the foot, which is seen with flat feet. Among non-athletic populations, plantar fasciitis is associated with obesity and lack of physical exercise.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain on the bottom of the heel, pain in the arch of the foot, pain that is usually worse upon arising, pain that increases over a period of months. People with plantar fasciitis often describe the pain as worse when they get up in the morning or after they’ve been sitting for long periods of time. After a few minutes of walking the pain decreases, because walking stretches the fascia. For some people the pain subsides but returns after spending long periods of time on their feet.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
If conservative treatments fail, and the symptoms of plantar fasciitis have not been relieved, the doctor may recommend one of the following treatments. Cortisone, or corticosteroids, is medications that reduce inflammation. Cortisone is usually mixed with local anesthetics and injected into the plantar fascia where it attaches to the heel bone. In many cases this reduces the inflammation present and allows the plantar fascia to begin healing. Local injections of corticosteroids may provide temporary or permanent relief. Recurrence of symptoms may be lessened by combining steroid injections with other forms of treatment such as orthotics, changes in shoe gear, weight loss, stretching exercises, and rest. Repeated cortisone injections may result in rupture of the plantar fascia, thinning of the heel’s fat pad, and other tissue changes. Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT) devices generate pulses of high-pressure sound that travel through the skin. For reasons that are not fully understood, soft tissue and bone that are subjected to these pulses of high-pressure energy heal back stronger. There is both a high-energy and low-energy form of ESWT; and both forms of shock wave therapy can be used in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. Research studies indicate ESWT is a safe and effective treatment option for plantar fasciitis. The recovery period is shorter than traditional invasive surgery and the procedure eliminates many of the risks associated with traditional surgery.
In very rare cases plantar fascia surgery is suggested, as a last resort. In this case the surgeon makes an incision into the ligament, partially cutting the plantar fascia to release it. If a heel spur is present, the surgeon will remove it. Plantar Fasciitis surgery should always be considered the last resort when all the conventional treatment methods have failed to succeed. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy (EPF) is a form of surgery whereby two incisions are made around the heel and the ligament is being detached from the heel bone allowing the new ligament to develop in the same place. In some cases the surgeon may decide to remove the heel spur itself, if present. Just like any type of surgery, Plantar Fascia surgery comes with certain risks and side effects. For example, the arch of the foot may drop and become weak. Wearing an arch support after surgery is therefore recommended. Heel spur surgeries may also do some damage to veins and arteries of your foot that allow blood supply in the area. This will increase the time of recovery.
Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. Losing weight, and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet, can be beneficial for your feet. Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels.